The last place Mychal Brown wanted to be last week was on the witness stand, testifying against his boyhood friend.
After all, it was Brown who introduced Tre Smitherman to the Davidson Bailey Boys, a street gang in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood, and Brown was with Smitherman when the accused man allegedly bought a .22-caliber revolver before the murder that now has him facing life in prison.
Even more important, perhaps, Brown told the jury he was there when a fellow gang member confronted Smitherman about the murder and why he did it.
“He had to prove a point,” Brown told the jury. “People thought he was soft. People thought he wasn’t official.”
To hear prosecutors talk, the killing of Charles Myles-Jones got Smitherman, then only 17, exactly what he wanted – entry into the Davidson Bailey Boys. Myles-Jones was an innocent bystander caught in the middle of a gang feud.
In a downtown courtroom, the story of Myles-Jones’ murder in 2010 and the allegation that he was killed as part of a gang initiation so that Smitherman could prove himself gang-worthy is unfolding as part of a federal court trial.
It’s also a murder case that provides a glimpse into Buffalo’s street gangs and how they operate. The case centers around the allegation that the Bailey Boys, like other violent gangs across the city, was a criminal enterprise that relied on drug dealing and robberies to thrive and robbery and murder to protect its turf.
It is also a case that focuses on the human toll gangs have taken over the years in Buffalo and how, on a November night nearly five years ago, a bloody rivalry between two of those gangs left an innocent man dead.
As Myles-Jones’ friends and family sat in the courtroom, Brown testified that Smitherman was eager to join the gang and willing to “do the work” that would gain him entry.
“Can you tell the jury what brought him in?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce asked.
“That situation,” Brown answered.
“The homicide?” Bruce asked.
“Yes,” Brown said.
Rival gang targeted
Brown, who testified only after being subpoenaed, said the Myles-Jones murder earned Smitherman a spot in the gang. Smitherman marked the occasion with a tattoo on his face: “DB” for Davidson Bailey.
On cross examination, Brown admitted he was friends with Myles-Jones and that he and others in the gang were angry over the murder because Myles-Jones wasn’t a gang member.
“You were upset Charlie was shot?” defense attorney Andrew C. LoTempio asked him.
“Very much so,” Brown said.
“You were angry?” LoTempio continued.
“Very much so,” Brown answered.
“You were angry with Dwight Mitchell and Tre Smitherman?” LoTempio asked.
“Yes,” Brown said.
At every opportunity, LoTempio raised the possibility that Mitchell, a Davidson Bailey gang member, not Smitherman, fired the gun that killed Myles-Jones. It was Mitchell, he noted, who was beaten up by members of the Midway Crew, a rival gang and the target of the shooting that night, and it was Mitchell who was definitely carrying a gun.
Known as Dede, Mitchell, 16 at the time, admits he and Smitherman were at the Super Stop on Kensington Avenue the night Myles-Jones, a clerk at the store, was shot and killed. However, in his plea deal with prosecutors, he says he only held open the door to the store while Smitherman fired two, maybe three shots inside.
“You believe he shot Charlie?” LoTempio asked Brown at one point, referring to Smitherman, his client.
“Either him or Dede,” Brown answered.
“It’s one of the two of them, right?” LoTempio asked.
“Yes,” Brown said.
“But you don’t know because you weren’t there,” LoTempio said.
Mitchell, who is currently in state prison for robbery, is awaiting sentencing in connection with the Myles-Jones murder. He pleaded guilty in 2013 to aiding and abetting a violent crime committed in aid of a racketeering enterprise.
Status via crime
Like many gang cases, the Smitherman trial is about more than a single criminal act. It is also about the organization, or alleged criminal enterprise, behind the crime, prosecutors say.
Throughout the trial, Bruce and fellow prosecutor Caleb J. Petzoldt have gone to great lengths to try and prove that Myles-Jones’ murder was done in support of the Bailey Boys. A federal grand jury, in its indictment of Smitherman, tied the killing to the gang and alleged the organization was formed with an eye toward controlling all criminal activity in the Ken-Bailey neighborhood.
The gang, according to the grand jury, supported itself by selling drugs and committing robberies, and protected its turf through shootings, fights and murder.
One witness, a former gang member, testified that the key to rising through the ranks of the Bailey Boys was “putting in the work.” And the more work you did, the higher your status in the organization.
“Shootings would be putting in some work?” Petzoldt asked the witness.
“Yes,” said Devonte Betts-Wilson, the former gang member.
“Doing a shooting, does that elevate your status?” Petzoldt asked.
“It would elevate it,” Betts-Wilson said. “It gets your name out there.”
While similar to a lot of street gangs, the Bailey Boys are different in some respects. The organization, for example, is made up of several smaller gangs, each one named after the streets they controlled – Davidson, Thatcher, Minnesota and others.
The smaller gangs often acted independently of each other, witnesses said, but sometimes worked with other Bailey Boys affiliates. The larger gang operated in a neighborhood bounded by Winspear Avenue, the Kensington Expressway, Eggert Road and Main Street.
Investigators say the gang’s members were so bold that they sported identifying tattoos on their faces such as “MB” for Minnesota Bailey or “Six Deuce” for Route 62 or Bailey Avenue.
The Smitherman trial resumes Monday with closing statements.